Musician-turned tattoo parlor owner attracts customers across U.S.

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

0715_harrellby Donovan Harrell

Music drew Doy Gardner to Nashville, Tenn., but ink made him stay.

“While I was on the road as a touring musician, I would be brainstorming…what would I do if I wasn’t playing drums for a living, and tattooing always came to mind,” Gardner said.

In 1999, Gardner left South Alabama to study music at Belmont University. While in Nashville, he began to explore his fascination with tattoos.

He noticed that Nashville lacked tattoo parlors that offered extensive, detailed art. It was then that he decided to follow his other passion.

“I started to slow down,” Gardner said. “This became a more of reality — things started to fall in my lap, and all the connections were starting to be pieced together in a way that made me feel comfortable pursuing tattooing.”


Doy Gardner and a partner opened Black 13 Tattoo Parlor in Nashville, Tenn., in 2008 to offer what they say are more intricate designs other parlors. (Photo: Donovan Harrell/Summer 2015)

In 2008, he teamed up with tattoo artist Josh Woods to create Black 13 Tattoo Parlor at 209 10th Ave. S.

“[Woods] was tattooing in Atlanta at the time that we met, and I approached him basically because he had a great name in the industry. He wanted to get out of Atlanta and have ownership over what he was doing.”

Gardner said Black 13 has a diverse customer base, with many customers coming from other states and countries. Clients include celebrities, professional athletes and musicians, including country music singer Jason Aldean and members of the locally based band Paramore, Gardner said.

He enjoys providing a range of services. “I’m fascinated on both sides; from the tattoo client that’s never had anything done, is super nervous, has to have something meaningful and tells us the entire story — which is completely fine — to what we consider ‘the collector,’” Gardner said. Collectors “come in and give our artists freedom to do 100 percent whatever they want.”

Eight artists and two assistants are among the shop’s 14 employees. Guest artists also work at Black 13 from time to time.

Lauren Bing, who handles customer and artist relations, has worked at the parlor for two years helping tattoo artists and prospective clients start the process.

Bing said she enjoys working with Gardner and Woods. “It’s great when you feel like you can be friends with some of your bosses,” she said. “They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met, and they really know how to take care of everyone here, not just customer-wise, but artist-wise. They’re quirky, but so is everybody.”

Gardner, 34, who has lost track of how many tattoos he’s had since getting his first one when he was 18 years old, believes that tattoos are much more than body art.

“Everything represents a different time and a different experience,” Gardner said. “That’s what’s big for us — it’s an experience. It’s so much more than a tattoo.”

For his part, the experience of owning a business has made Nashville much more than a city to Gardner – it’s his new home, he said.

“I love the city for a lot of different reasons,” Gardner said. “Music drew me here; the southern vibe and that…southern hospitality kept me here. Music allowed me to travel a lot and see the world, but I kept wanting to come back here.”

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